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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2722

Mr McVEIGH(4.56) —As I have said on previous occasions, it is always a pleasure to follow in debate such a disciplined and thoughtful speaker as the honourable member for Lindsay (Mr Free). This afternoon we had a repetition of his usual solid contribution. It is always very refreshing to hear a member of this place speak with sincerity and to know that he has gone to the trouble of researching his speech. I may disagree with the honourable member on certain matters, but I know that, having regard to the spirit of opposition that permeates the Federal Parliament, he accepts that that in no way detracts from the congratulations that I extend to him for an excellent contribution. I hope that further speakers from the Government side of the House will try to emulate the very high standard that he has set.

As a spokesman for the National Party of Australia, I merely want to say that these are what we might term machinery Bills and we do not intend to oppose them. This is certainly a reasonable position for us to adopt. However, we regret very much indeed that circumstances such as wage increases and consumer price index increases have necessitated the introduction of legislation of this sort. We can only hope that economic policies in future will endeavour to overcome the need for the allocation of extra resources to this vital area of education, merely to satisfy increased costs due to inflation and associated problems. It would be far more desirable if we could use the extra funds-roughly $106m-which are being allocated under these three Bills to improve and increase the programs. The honourable member for Lindsay referred to the participation and equity program. From discussions that I have had with concerned people from all areas of Australia, I understand that, unfortunately, sufficient funds are not available to allow handicapped people to take part in participation and equity programs. Various programs are available for women, disadvantaged people, Aboriginal persons and so on, but because insufficient money is available under PEP handicapped people still have no programs anywhere in Australia designed to help them. I know that the spastic welfare leagues and the Endeavour Foundation in Queensland, for example, do have various programs.

Mr Millar —Very good, too.

Mr McVEIGH —They are very good, as the honourable member for Wide Bay says. I know that there is an excellent program in his area run by the Endeavour Foundation, whereby people who would not normally have the opportunity of participating in an educational type program are able to participate in activities on a farming property. They have a Brahman stud, which is a very high quality stud, with its livestock winning at exhibitions and at the Royal National Exhibition. The participants there have the opportunity of engaging in small cropping. On one occasion when I was there some years ago they were preparing an avocado plantation, and I understand those avocado trees are now bearing fruit. I just say as an aside how unfortunate it is that money, under these Bills, has been allocated merely for cost increases and not for the provision of more and improved programs. I offer that comment not in the spirit of opposition for opposition's sake but simply to indicate what would be a preferable situation.

I realise that this situation has arisen due to an arrangement that the Government previously entered into. Let us be honest, it was an arrangement entered into before the last election, following which the Government went to the people. So it can claim quite honestly that its policies were endorsed by the people at the election. We understand that these Bills are machinery in nature, by and large granting additional funding for adjustments and cost escalations due to salary increases because of the recent national wage case decision.

It was interesting to note in the second reading speech of the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins), representing the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), on the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill that he mentioned that a supplementation for wage increases applies to all teachers except university academics. University academics are not included because they are currently seeking a 100 per cent increase in salaries before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. If they are successful the top-ranking academic salary will be around $120,000 a year. I appreciate that this is an ambit claim designed to create a technical dispute so that Commission supervised negotiations can begin with the Australian universities industrial association. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know the type of electorate that you represent, and I think it is unfortunate that we have before the Arbitration Commission an application seeking a doubling of salaries from people who already receive, in ordinary language, quite substantial salaries. I can readily understand the concern of unemployed people at, say, Stradbroke Island which you, Mr Deputy Speaker, have the honour of representing in this Parliament, who cannot get a job, about applications for what they term rather high salaries. They might think of those applications as being rather greedy. It is unfortunate that the academics are not setting a good example for the rest of the community and trying to bring down what people might think is an insatiable thirst for more and more money.

This claim comes at a time when everyone from the Treasurer (Mr Keating) down is calling for wage restraint. The National Party supports wage restraint. We do that for many reasons. Our economy is in a perilous state and cannot afford these types of claims, whether they are ambit or otherwise. University academics, like everyone else, must learn to live within their means. It is interesting to note that to the present the Academic Salaries Tribunal has been the mechanism which decides salaries for university academics-that is, until they applied for registration as an industrial union before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Academics from colleges of advanced education have similarly applied for registration as an industrial union. This brings me to my point. I would like the Minister representing the Minister for Education, when he replies in this debate, to let us know what will happen to the Academic Salaries Tribunal when, as I understand is to be the case, both of these bodies are represented as industrial unions before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Perhaps then the only people who will be subjected to decision-making by the Academic Salaries Tribunal will be the likes of vice-chancellors. Possibly the arrangement be that they, like us, will have their salaries referred to the Remuneration Tribunal. I cannot see the need for the existence of an academic salaries tribunal when the significant parts of its responsibilities have been removed from its jurisdiction and, at the request of the academics, put into the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

The States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill, which is included in this package of Bills, has as its objective the streamlining of the system of distribution of grants for non-government schools. Catholic schools will form one block authority and most other non-government schools will form a second authority. It is my understanding that the catholic school authorities have welcomed the change as they feel that it will enable the grant money to be closer to the actual user.

Mrs Darling —That's right, too.

Mr McVEIGH —However, as with any piece of legislation, they are having some difficulty with certain aspects of the Bill. I appreciate the interjection by the honourable member for Lilley. I do not have any objection to the type of arrangement that the Government has entered into with the catholic and non-government school sectors. On balance, I support that type of approach. The concept of streamlining government is one that the National Party has long advocated because we believe it is in the best interests of the country as a whole to have smaller bureaucracy and consequently less interference in the lives of all Australians. In the interim, provision must be made for the increases in costs incurred by the body accepting the increased work load. The elimination of government involvement with block grants to complying authorities will reduce the work load of the Department of Education, I suspect and hope, and therefore the administrative costs involved. However, these administrative costs will then have to be borne by the authorities, with an upper limit of 2 per cent of the grant allowed by the Department of Finance. In effect, as I see it, we are transferring the costs of administering the program to the distributing bodies in the States, which should mean less administration by the Education Department in the Australian Capital Territory.

I have been advised that preliminary costing from Queensland shows that it will cost the catholic education system $120,000 to take over this new responsibility, and that the cost in New South Wales will be $150,000. So $120,000 will come off education achievements in the market-place, in the schools, in Queensland, and $150,000 will come off those achievements in New South Wales. I just hope that those costs will be savings to the central administrative body in Canberra. If they are not, this measure is what we might term an optical illusion, and we will be pulling the wool over people's eyes. The National Party and, I hope, the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party are surely more interested in getting the maximum number of dollars out to assist those seeking education rather than having large sums gobbled up, as it were, in administration. I hope that when the sums are done the Minister representing the Minister for Education in this place will make very strong representations to the Minister for Education to ensure that there is good housekeeping, because it seems to me to be of vital importance that the taxpayers' dollar is spent not on administration but on giving more educational opportunities to the sons and daughters of Australian families.

I will instance a couple of situations which would save money for the authorities and therefore reserve more grant funding for needy schools. Information conveyed to me indicates that the block grants will be given in 11 equal instalments over a 12-month period, with quarterly reports being submitted by the authorities to the Department of Finance. The catholic education commissions to which I have spoken have advocated-I think it is quite a natural corollary in the business sense-quarterly instalments to coincide with the period of reporting, thereby reducing their administrative work load. This would give the authorities the opportunity to invest the funds not needed immediately, which in turn would create additional funding for the authorities to use. From my understanding of the arrangements there is a need for the Department to adopt a flexible approach in interpreting the Government's guidelines for needy schools. This would allow the block authorities to determine priorities and have some discretion in deciding which schools should be given priority for help.

I turn my attention to the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill, the third and last of these Bills to be addressed. That in no way implies that it is the least important. The PEP scheme will be replaced next year by an access education program because the existing scheme is not adequate or in accord with the Government's Priority One objective. This new access education program will have as its main theme a major increase in the vocational education and skills of our young people. The long term unemployed will be its target group, and it will co-ordinate the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, State and Territory TAFE authorities and the Commonwealth Employment Service, which is part of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. I support the objective of the Government in targeting the long term unemployed.

Surely, there could be few more demoralising instances in life than for a young person who has used every endeavour to improve his or her skills to find that he or she cannot get a job. I can readily understand the feelings of such people. Quite frankly, I believe they have every right to have a chip on their shoulder when they have made the effort but do not get the opportunity, because of insufficient skills. It is about time that all of us, in a bipartisan approach, got away from trying to score political points at every opportunity in every debate. I do not care who knows this, because I want everyone to know it: I do not belong to the school of thought that says that Australia has far too many bludgers. It has far too many people who want to work but are not. There are very few people in Australia who want to defraud the system. Most people, if given the opportunity, would much prefer to work than to be the recipient of a social security payment. I think it is jolly well time all parliamentarians tried to acknowledge this and tried to uphold and uplift rather than trying to drag down and to criticise.

It is both desirable and urgent that the youth of our nation are equipped with the necessary skills to enable them to contribute to the well-being of our nation, both for their own individual success as well as for the forward progress of Australia as a modern industrial force. It is my firm belief that everyone has something to contribute, and it is our responsibility, as a governing body, to provide these opportunities. The guidelines, as set out in the Act which established the participation and equity program, refer to the groups which should be represented in the program, such as women, our indigenous people, ethnic groups et cetera. Physically disabled people, as I mentioned earlier, are also included under the umbrella. But unfortunately they are not able to participate because of the shortfall of funds.

If we are to embrace the value-added concept, which has been advocated out in commercial parts of Australia, of more processing and profit taking in Australia by Australians, we need to develop Australia's intellectual capital. More than 60 per cent of the annual export earnings of Japan, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy depend on brain-based industries, while Australia's figure is less than 5 per cent. Of the 24 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations, Australia rates twenty-second on the value per capita of technology intensive exports. Only Portugal and Greece are lower. In 1950, 3.5 per cent of the Australian labour force entrants had degrees or diplomas; yet by 1980 this figure had only doubled to become 7 per cent. Japan, on the other hand, has increased its educated labour force from less than one per cent in 1950 to 39 per cent in 1980.

In order to survive the economic upheaval in which we presently find our world, we must think more seriously about encouraging our young people to prepare themselves for a career by developing skills necessary for them to survive in a technologically changing world. This can occur both on the manual and mental levels, because we need a diversity of people with a diversity of skills. In the same vein, we also need our artists, dancers, opera singers and craftspeople. They, too, have their part to play in developing our civilisation into a well rounded, multi-dimensional culture, reflecting our recognition of the importance of the arts in enriching our lives. Let us not dismiss their area of interest as frivolous or uneconomic in terms of the overall well-being of our nation. The world we live in today is increasingly sophisticated, requiring trained and resourceful minds capable of adjusting to the change. We must recognise this need and go with it, for it is in our best interests in the long run to do so.

I want to conclude with two matters. Firstly, let us all always ensure that we have in place in Australia an education system which is designed for all Australians. I am totally opposed to the concept in educational thinking that only the rich should have the opportunity of further education. That is disastrous and under no circumstances must we pursue that. I applaud a long list of Federal Ministers for Education going back to John Grey Gorton, a man who has never had adequate recognition for the part that he played in trying to bring education to the poor people of Australia. Let us continue with that, to ensure that the poor have the opportunity of developing their skills, because they, above all, are the ones who richly deserve that opportunity. Secondly, let us also have a system of education which does not seek to allow the Government to usurp the rights of the individual, because, in the final analysis, it is my firm and very personal contention that I as a parent, surely have the right to decide what type of education my children shall or shall not receive. For me to abrogate that responsibility to a government is equally as bad as a government trying to take over my responsibility. So let us hope, in the interests of justice and honesty, that we can have a system designed to be fair to all.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.